Saturday, November 28, 2015

Kane Graveyard - Some History

If the so-called luck of the Irish does exist, and I believe it does, it is because of Irish generosity. For a long time, I had wanted to visit Kane graveyard, but I was only able to finally visit it because Eugene Lynch had offered to drive me there – after his wife had fed us both a substantial and excellent lunch. His offer of a ride was essential, because I could never have found this ancient burying place on my own. Even Eugene, who knows the area like the back of his own hand, had to stop, as we neared it, to ask if we were on the right track. We were. When we arrived, the sun broke through and the drizzle ceased. When it comes to luck, that was like the icing on the top of the cake.  

The earlier version of this post - which was inadvertently erased -  had another map that I made but which I can no longer find. Its description: The red arrow points to the graveyard. The green arrows indicate where many of those buried at Kane once lived. NOTE: Just found it:

Some of the information that has been handed down about this graveyard is based on folk tales, and some is from written records. I always enjoy the seasoning that the local stories add to the dustier versions found in history texts. A good starting place is the tale of the fairies at Kane. Jem Murphy’s version was first published in the Journal of The Creggan Local History Society in 1992. It was a retelling of an older tale, told about a hundred years earlier by Jem Callaghan. He had been working until after midnight at the kiln in Johnston's corn-mill in Ballsmill. John Johnston’s mill would have been about three kilometers north of Kane. The tale opens with the totally believable fact that Callaghan had been drying oats for the next day’s milling, and with his work done, he was simply walking home, as he usually would.

He was travelling north on the "Boher Mor" [aka the Big Road leading southeast to Dundalk] and coming near home when he met with a troop of fairies carrying a small coffin. When he met them, they left the coffin down by the roadside and told him they were going to Kane graveyard to bury one of their clan. They begged him to come with them and assist at the burial and he agreed.
When they restarted the journey the leader asked "Who'll carry the coffin?", the rest answered, "Who but Callaghan!", so Jem took the coffin on his shoulders and marched at the front of the cortege. When they arrived at Kane the leader directed them into the ruined church and pointed to the spot for Jem to leave down the coffin. He then inquired "Who'll say the Mass?", to which the rest replied "Who but Callaghan"! The Mass said; the leader asked, "Who'll dig the grave?". "Who but Callaghan" came the answer.

Note the call and refrain element of this story. It made such tales more likely to stick in people’s memories, and therefore more likely to be handed down from one generation to another.

When the burial was over the leader went behind the hedge and returned with white mare, he told Jem to mount and make for home, he would get "coin and livery" at the "Stump" the fairy told him.
He came home, tied the mare to the door porch went in, and went to bed. He got up in the morning and went out to see the mare. - - - "And what had I?" Jem would ask his listeners, "a broomstick with a bunch of feathers at one end of it! ". Some of his listeners. would ask Jem how he said the Mass. "How did I say it", he would answer "only the best way I knew how".

The Stump, where Callaghan was supposed to go to get his coin and livery, was an oval building about a kilometer southeast of the graveyard. The Irish name for Stump is Fas Na Haon Oidce. Its meaning, the work of one night, was also used in describing mushrooms, and perhaps there is a connection between the fairies and Stump. After all, a circle of mushrooms is often referred to as a fairy ring.

Stump photo from the collection of C.T. McCrea, and published in A Man Who Can Speak of Plants. E. Charles Nelson and Alan Probert.
In 1915, it took more than the work of one night to cart away the last of the remaining stones of Stump. It is likely that they ended up in several of the farm walls and buildings nearby. The thieving of stones had long been a losing battle. In the mid-1800s, Dr. Thomas Coulter (1793-1843), the famed naturalist and son of Samuel Coulter, had tried to stop people taking those stones. They were on his leased land, and he valued the Stump for its mysterious history. Even though he prosecuted some of the culprits – successfully - the practice of thieving the stones continued unabated.

The Coulters were not only successful farmers, but were also more educated than one might expect. Samuel Coulter owned an impressive personal library reflecting his eclectic interests in science, agriculture and literature. He also had an abiding interest in Irish culture, and had commissioned and published translations of old Irish tales. He wasn’t alone in this. There were several Presbyterians in the region in the late 1700s and early 1800s who were also passionate about saving Irish heritage. It is probable that some of Callaghan’s listeners would have known of the Coulters, their connection to the Stump, and also that many of their relations had been buried at Kane. After all, the memories of people in that time and place were both long and deep. 

Those listening to Callaghan’s tale would also have known about the souterrain or underground cave at Kane that dated back to about 1,200 BC. The wall that surrounds the graveyard was built over the opening to it. Its entry was on the right hand side of the current entrance gate. According to Harry Tempest of Dundalk, writing in the 1920's, it ran deep into and beneath the graveyard. A couple of decades earlier (1900), Fr. Larry Murray had also described this cave: in the east side of the churchyard, in the middle of which was a beautiful spring well; it is now closed

The parish of Kane was named for the legendary Cian Mac Cáint, who lived nearby at Killen Hill, another of the townlands leased by the Coulters in the 1700s. His story had been passed down long before the post-Cromwellian influx of farmers, such as the Coulters, had arrived from Scotland. As fate would have it, the story of Cian was one of the kinds of tales that Samuel Coulter, and men like him, would help to preserve both as the legend of The Death of the Sons of Tuireann, and in the poem written and sung by Peadar O Doirnin (1700-1769), a hedge school teacher from south Armagh: 

You'll have harp-music played with swift fingers
to wake you and love songs —
there is no fort as happy and full of fun
as the fair hill of Cian Mac Cáinte.

The earliest known record of some kind of Christian church at Kane was its mention in an ecclesiastical dispute in 1297. Typically, the fight was over the allocation of tithes. In Anglo-Norman records, the church was funded by what was called a prebend, meaning that the cathedral granted revenue to the minister as salary. That privilege seems to have lapsed in the 1500s, after the Reformation, and during the shift from Catholic to Protestant. A lot of the old churches went dark in this era.
Parts of these walls, surrounding both the church and the grave site, date back to the early 1700s.
When Rev. James Cubett arrived in 1692 as the Protestant curate of Kane, the church was in rough shape. Even though no clergyman had lived there since the Reformation, Cubett was expected to reside there. During his brief tenure, the church, dedicated to St. John, was totally rebuilt, and this time the reconstructed church lasted long enough for a successor to take over. A few remaining fragments, of what would have been an interior skim coat of plaster, indicate that the builders did their best to make it cozy, and to keep out the draft.

In 1699, Rev. Wm. Smith, who served the parishioners in Barronstown and Faughart, as well as Dunbin, was additionally given the responsibility for the Parish of Kane after Cubett had left. He preached and celebrated Divine Services there every Sunday. Not that his congregation would have been large. Even by 1766, there were still only 2 Protestant and 22 R.C. families living within the parish. It seems likely that some of the Protestants who lived nearby in the parishes of Barronstown, Castletown, Phillipstown, Roche, and the eastern part of Creggan also attended services at Kane. Their family residences are noted on many of the gravestones that remain.

It is hard to say how many years it took for that version of the rebuilt church to disappear. Not that there was much to cart away. Even in its heyday, the building was no larger than a typical thatched bungalow – about 50’ by 26’. When it comes to local archaeological pillaging, this would have been small potatoes. It was nowhere near as challenging as it had been for stone-stealers to remove the stones of Ireland's Stonehenge at nearby Carnbeg. Those stones, many of which were massive, had been carted away, in spite of the opposition of the Coulters. The local farmers who took such stones – and the ones from Carnbeg were as large as the ones at Stonehenge - probably prided themselves on being practical. As for the church at Kane, by the 1900s, only the bottom few feet of the walls were left.

I do not know at what point the graveyard became predominately (if not totally) a Presbyterian burial ground. It would have been after the influx of Scots Dissenters in the post-Cromwellian era. I also do not know when the Church of Ireland finally ceased to hold services there, but in 1786, the parish was permanently united with Barronstown. According to Noel Ross, who knows much more about the local history than I ever will, there is no subsequent record of the church at Kane ever being used as a place of worship for Presbyterians. By the 1800s, it was only being used for burials. Many of the dead came from townlands near the long-gone Presbyterian meeting house at Annaghvacky. Their families farmed there and at Carracloghan, Shortstone West, Cavananore, and Roche. Over time, they had prospered, and some of their sons had become merchants, lawyers, and doctors. Their occupations are noted on their gravestone inscriptions.

By the early 1970s, the graveyard became - once again - over-run with weeds, and saplings. The bushes got so tall that only the tips of the tallest of the markers could be seen in the sea of green. In 1974, the Faughart Historical Properties Preservation Society restored it, and ecumenical services were held intermittently during the following decades. Jane Bailie of Carraghcloghan (1903-1977) was the last to be buried, with her ancestral families, in the graveyard at Kane. Sometime after her burial, the weeds again took over, and in 2005, the site had to be reclaimed one more time. This last effort, at least, seems to have taken hold.

I am grateful for all those who have struggled over the years to protect this site, whether they were doing this work as government staff or as volunteers. Thanks also to Eugene Lynch for that magical afternoon visit in the spring of 2015. As a bonus, the two of us were joined by a very biblical kind of flock, one that I suspect is best suited to keeping the ever-lasting weeds at bay.

Sheep grazing around graves.

NOTE: This page was inadvertently erased – by me. This is my attempt to reconstruct what I had. March 1, 2016.  It isn't quite the same.
Update (thanks to Noel Ross): There is a detailed description of the souterrain at Kane in 'Five Louth Souterrains', CLAHJ, xix, 3, (1979), pp 206 - 217. Noel Ross was in the souterrain at the time it was surveyed. The dating of 1.200 B.C. is rather early, the generally accepted date range for souterrains is between 600 and 1,200 A.D.There is a short piece in Leslie’s Armagh Clergy and Parishes. It was never a Presbyterian place of worship. A meeting house at Annaghvacky for the Presbyterian congregation was opened in 1773. For details see Don Johnston’s article in the 2013 Journal of Co. Louth Archaelogical and Historical Journal, ‘Gaelic-Speaking Presbyterian Ministers of Dundalk/Ballymascanlan’. The map on p. 62 shows the location. Since there is no other graveyard in the area Kane was the obvious burial place.

PS A haunting guitar version of Peadar O Doirnin’s song can be heard at: Úrchnoc or The Fair Hill of Killen. It makes for a beautiful accompaniment to the photos of the grave markers.

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